Young Rebels is an unpretentious little documentary about Cuban hip-hop, a subject of less significance than the principals believe. There aren’t enough IDs, several conversations are clumsily staged to add needed coherence, and the narrative peg, the run-up to an annual festival, isn’t exactly
Perils of Pauline. Yet Young Rebels
is at least as sharp as Buena Vista Social Club despite the latter’s renowned director and musical subject of undisputed cultural moment. This is partly because Wim Wenders never wonders for a second whether the aged artists he’s filming are as important as Ry Cooder claims, whereas Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck sense their subjects’ limitations. But it’s also because Boden and Fleck don’t merely demonize Castro’s Cuba. The rappers, most of them blacker than the cultural functionaries they’re stuck with, confront a racism that’s come roaring back since Russia pulled the rug out in 1989. They oppose Castro’s government even as they angle for its perks. But they oppose the U.S. government and its cruel embargo harder. As they debate the nuances of hip-hop “reality” and struggle to carve out dubious careers for themselves, they could be alternative musos anywhere. But they clearly don’t come from anywhere. They come from a Cuba as confused and contradictory as they are.